INDIANAPOLIS — The national championship matchup that few had in their brackets turned out to be one of the better finales in years.
Texas A & M got 30 points and nine rebounds from Women’s Final Four Most Outstanding Player Danielle Adams and shot 68 percent in the second half to down Notre Dame 76-70 before a crowd of 17,473 at Conseco Fieldhouse.
It was the first NCAA championship for the Aggies (33-5), who were in downtrodden shape when coach Gary Blair arrived from Arkansas in 2003. Notre Dame (31-8), playing in front a friendly partisan crowd, was vying for its second national title, 10 years after capturing its first crown in an all-Indiana affair over Purdue.
Without the more familiar names of UConn, Tennessee and Stanford, some pundits bemoaned the supposed lack of star power.
In what proved to be a prelude to a riveting Women’s Final Four, A & M put out Stanford in the national semifnals after trailing by 10 points late in the second half. Then Notre Dame, fresh off a stunning Elite Eight win over Tennessee, crushed UConn’s bid for a third consecutive title.
“I hope Tony Kornheiser was watching this,” said Blair, referring to one of the ESPN TV host. “Women’s basketball perhaps needed this game more than Texas A & M and Notre Dame did.”
After battling foul trouble and a seven-point lead early in the second half, the Aggies took the lead for good at 58-57 with 8:30 to play on a jumper by Tyra White. But it was her 3-point shot with 1:07 left, and as the shot clock expired, that essentially put away Notre Dame as A & M led 73-68.
“That was a knife in my heart,” Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw said. “That was the game, that play right there.”
The Aggies, who beat Big 12 rival Baylor in the Elite 8 after losing to the Lady Bears three times, then roared past Stanford in the semifinals, looked like they might crack when both Adams and point guard Sydney Colson were whistled with three fouls.
But Adams, the Barkleyesque power forward who shed 40 pounds before the season, stopped taking long jumpers and worked in the paint in the second half. She scored 22 points after halftime on 9-for-11 shooting, putting Devereaux Peters, Notre Dame’s top post defender, in foul trouble.
“I had a little voice in my head that said, ‘Don’t let this team down,’ ” Adams said. “And I just took the game over. I wasn’t going to let my team lose. They’ve been doing everything for me, so I decided to take them on my back and just let them ride on my back.”
Diggins led the Irish with 23 points while Peters scored 21 and pulled down 11 rebounds. They’re part of a Notre Dame nucleus that loses only starter for next season.
A & M parts with Adams and Colson, returns White and starting guard Sydney Carter and welcomes South Carolina transfer center Kelsey Bone and the top recruiting class in Aggies’ history.
“Either one of us deserves this trophy, but we played just a little bit better in the second half,” Blair said. “We found a way.”
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